SCO / Schuldt

SCO / Schuldt

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Getting the best out of Schumann is not as easy as one might imagine. There’s something about his orchestral music in particular that tells of an ardent and instinctive creative mind working hard to express the fullness of its fruits, but where an overabundance of his own self-criticism looms menacingly, threatening to suffocate its natural flow. Get the right conductor, and the threats dissolve. Clement Schuldt is one such exponent, something he proved beyond doubt in an SCO programme that began and ended with Schumann.

It was in the final work, the Symphony No 3 known as the Rhenish, that the distinctive character of Schuldt’s approach was most forcibly illustrated. He is a gestural conductor, who paints vivid pictures with his hands and which an orchestra as responsive as the SCO latches onto with stimulating results. 

This was by no means a pristine run-of-the-mill Rhenish, in that a certain riskiness gave this performance ample biting edge and spontaneous thrills. Dubiety of pulse in the opening bars instilled an unsettlingly mystifying ambiguity, resolving quickly to assert the extremes of pomposity and brooding melancholy that frame the first movement’s stormy polemic. 

The moderately-paced Scherzo was both weighty and fluid; the third movement meaty and mellifluous; the final two moments sombre and vivacious respectively. Informing all of this was a richly-flavoured SCO – its bold winds, punchy brass and brazen strings emphasised in the immediacy of the Queen’s Hall acoustics.

Compare that to the Scottish premiere of Julian Anderson’s Cello Concerto “Litanies” which preceded it, its shimmery impermanence a million miles from the gravitational solidity of the Schumann. Performed superbly by Alban Gerhardt, its dedicatee, Anderson’s originality sat to the fore, lacy textures bearing an almost ephemeral appeal and exhilaration, Gerhardt fully absorbed in the music’s translucent charm, sympathetic to the ingenuity of orchestral flavourings punching the air around him. 

The work which opening the concert – Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale – presented the composer in uncommonly high spirits, reflected by Schuldt’s vibrant, cheery realisation. It was a performance that danced on air, oozed theatricality and languished in heart-felt lyricism. Yet it resisted any temptation for anodyne complacency, Schuldt’s vigorous precision keeping it fresh and dynamic at every turn.

Ken Walton